Under the guise of greater public and private financial “transparency” murky new legislation has been proposed that would strongly favor asbestos companies in the asbestos claims process. Advocates of HR 4369, known as the FACT ACT, and S 3076, its companion bill in the Senate, support the same means to the same end. Despite the fact that the asbestos industry does not argue that asbestos exposure is harmful and/or deadly, HR 4369 and S 3076 stand to place increased unreasonable burdens of proof on victims already suffering from asbestos exposure.
The Creation of Asbestos Trusts
On the heels of formally acknowledging that asbestos exposure is harmful and/or lethal, Congress created “asbestos trusts.” Translation: Asbestos companies caught for foul play eventually file for bankruptcy, but instead of assets being lost altogether they are placed into a tax-sheltered “trust fund” for the purpose of allocating money for damage claims to victims harmed by the foul play: All present and future liabilities therefore are shifted to paying claim settlements in order that said asbestos company may emerge from bankruptcy without present or future tax liability.
Supposedly, these trusts exist solely for the benefit of recompense to asbestos victim to pay out compensation to asbestos victims who make a claim with the trust. These trust payments are allocated based on agreements negotiated by the asbestos companies, plaintiff’s prosecuting counsel and court’s approval. All documentation pertaining to trust settlements for asbestos victims is public information.
What HR 4369 and S 3076 Will Change
It is common for asbestos victims to receive compensation from more than one asbestos company. The plaintiff (victim) is obliged by law to disclose all trust payments from various sources in a settlement or claim. The defendant (asbestos company) is then provided with a collective sum of amounts received and allowed to question any information to a plaintiff’s trust claim.
The true objective of HR 4369 and S 3076 is to amend Title 11 of the United States Tax Code, allowing for bankruptcy trusts (created by the negligent asbestos company’s bankruptcy) to request detailed information regarding the receipt and disposition of claims for injuries based on personal testimony of the injured party. This will allow the asbestos companies to request infinitesimal information from the trusts (plaintiffs) at any time and for virtually any reason and for any length of time. It would also place unreasonable burdens on the plaintiffs/victims and make the claims processes longer and more complex for mesothelioma patients who are already fighting for their lives.
The asbestos companies are playing a game: they wager that they can discourage victims from making claims by over-complicating the system or that they can over-complicate the system long enough to outlast the patient’s life expectancy.
The Potential Harm of HR 4369 and S 3076
Asbestos victims are logically already battling life-threatening diseases such as mesothelioma and other types of thoracic cancer when they endeavor to seek justice and compensation for exposure.
HR 4369— “Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act”—serves to give asbestos companies the right to reduce or delay asbestos victims the settlements they are entitled to. So much for transparency.